Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 6,000


14 Nov. 1803 LORD ROBERT EDWARD HENRY SOMERSET vice Worcester, called to the Upper House 
18 May 1810 WILLIAM FTTZHARDINGE BERKELEY, Visct. Dursley, vice Berkeley, vacated his seat 
7 Feb. 1811 SIR BERKELEY WILLIAM GUISE, Bt., vice Dursley, vacated his seat3114
 Hon. John Dutton2633

Main Article

The electoral pact of 1783 whereby the 5th Duke of Beaufort, a Pittite, and the 5th Earl of Berkeley, a follower of the Prince of Wales, had agreed to end their long rivalry and settle for the nomination of one Member each, remained in force in this period. The aristocratic monopoly provoked considerable resentment among the gentry, the lesser freeholders and the wealthy clothiers of the Stroud area. Opposition was frequently threatened, but did not materialize until 1810.

There was no resistance in 1790 to the re-election of the sitting Members, Thomas Master of Cirencester, Beaufort’s nominee, and Berkeley’s brother, a sailor and junior member of Pitt’s government. When Master retired in 1796 Beaufort put up his eldest son, Lord Worcester. Sir George Onesiphorous Paul of Rodborough, near Stroud, a Whig whose family’s fortune had been made in the cloth industry, who had been chairman of the county reform committee in 1780 and was a leading prison reformer, talked of standing if ‘called upon by his friends at the county meeting’. Beaufort reported that Worcester enjoyed ‘a very general support from all our old friends and has received a very pacific letter from Lord Berkeley, who with his brother seems to wish much for a quiet election’.1 In the event Paul did not intervene, and there was no disturbance in 1802.

When Worcester succeeded to the dukedom, Adm. Berkeley wrote to his kinsman Lord Grenville, 14 Oct. 1803:

I imagine the present duke will endeavour to choose one of his brothers, but I hardly think the county will like it, although it is the only certain way of securing peace, as Sir George Paul, who has long been a sort of floating candidate, and probably may be induced to offer himself now, is so strange a compound, that he will not please.2

There was no opposition to Beaufort’s brother, a soldier and follower of Pitt. In October 1805 Walter Honywood Yate of Bromsberrow, a reformer, canvassed but got nowhere.3 At the general election a year later Adm. Berkeley was abroad on active service and Paul, sustained by ‘the generosity of the clothiers of Stroud’ who opened a subscription for him, tried to make an issue of his absence. Lord Berkeley sought ministerial support for his brother from Grenville, who had already given it. The Beaufort camp rallied their friends and at the nomination Paul backed down. Lord Berkeley wrote to Grenville:

The stir Sir G. Paul has occasioned has proved to me the additional strength my interest has acquired since the famous contest 30 years ago. In future if I have the patronage and support of government and it should be their object to return the two Members, I think it may be done.4

With his Whig friends back in opposition Berkeley had no chance to test this theory in 1807.

In April 1809 Sir Berkeley William Guise of Highnam, whose cousin and namesake had sat for the county on the Berkeley interest from 1770 to 1783 and who had been named, along with Yate, as a steward for the forthcoming London reform dinner organized by John Cartwright, sought Paul’s support for a county meeting to press for reform and vote thanks to Wardle, Burdett and company for their part in the Duke of York inquiry. Paul, whose hostility to extremists dated from the early 1780s, when he had taken alarm at the intervention in Wyvill’s moderate reform campaign of Cartwright and other radicals, refused to countenance the agitation for reform at public meetings or the approbation of the ‘dangerous’ Burdett. Guise bridled at his ‘dictation’ and Paul eventually indicated his willingness to support a meeting called for ‘the substantive purpose’ of applauding Wardle. Guise reduced the proposed resolutions to votes of thanks to Wardle and the Members for Gloucester and Tewkesbury who had supported him; an expression of preference for the existing constitution to ‘any other mode of civil government’; declarations of support for economical reform and triennial parliaments and a condemnation of ministerial interference in elections. The meeting does not seem to have taken place, but Guise, who did not attend the Crown and Anchor reform dinner, 1 May, evidently learnt a useful lesson from the episode, which was to have a bearing on county electoral politics the following year.5

In March 1810 Lord Berkeley persuaded his brother, still absent on active service, to surrender his seat so that he could bring in his eldest son Lord Dursley, and the Admiral accordingly applied for the Chiltern Hundreds. The writ was issued on 30 Apr., but the sheriff, Paul Wathen of Lypiatt Park, a clothier, either chose or was prevailed on to delay the nomination until 18 May, and Sir Edwin Bayntun Sandys of Miserden Park, near Stroud, came forward ‘on the Burdett system’, as Berkeley reported to Perceval:

The sheriff lives in the neighbourhood of Stroud amidst the clothing manufactory, where numbers are to be got together on any pretence in a short time. The people there are ready for anything at this time from the stoppage of our manufactories, numbers are out of employment who used to earn three and four pounds a week. The interest that this mad baronet endeavours to raise on the cry of ‘Burdett and Independence’ cuts as much against the Duke of Beaufort as myself ... I understand that it is not meant to go to a poll, unless they have a fair prospect of a large majority ... If they should go ... there will be a clamour raised of the Burdetts which will be as unpleasant to the public, as to me, as it will spread into other counties.

Berkeley asked Perceval to intervene with Michael Hicks Beach, Member for Cirencester who, he claimed, had pledged support to Sandys, and with William Pitt of Cirencester (presumably a connexion of Joseph Pitt* the banker), whom he described as his opponents’ ‘chief agent and the person they rely on entirely’. Perceval discovered that Beaufort and his cabinet colleague Lord Bathurst, whose property at Cirencester gave him a stake in the county, intended to remain neutral and decided to do likewise. Bathurst could not believe that Hicks Beach or Pitt would support a genuine Burdettite and was ‘rather of opinion that it might be better to have the contest now than at the general election’. In the event Sandys’s candidature came to nothing.6

Dursley’s legitimacy and the validity of his claim to be Berkeley’s heir had never been established. On 31 May 1810 Henry Swann presented a petition from certain Gloucestershire freeholders asserting that his election was void, on the ground that on taking his seat he had not submitted any qualification but merely represented himself, falsely, to be the heir apparent of a peer. While ministers and opposition agreed that the petition did not fall under the scope of the Grenville Act, the former sought to have it referred to a committee of privileges, but the Whigs rallied to Dursley and the petition was rejected, 5 June, by 91 votes to 46.7

On Berkeley’s death, 8 Aug. 1810, Dursley, who succeeded to the family estates under settlement, vacated his seat and petitioned for his writ of summons as a peer. His choice of successor fell on John Dutton, son of the 1st Baron Sherborne, a former county Member. Although Dutton stood as a Whig, pledged to oppose ‘all revolutionary principles’ but to support reform of rotten boroughs and the abolition of sinecures, he was backed by Beaufort, who was alleged to have violated his neutrality in order to obtain the vacant lord lieutenancy, and by at least two members of the government who had property in Gloucestershire. He was challenged by Guise who stood, supported by Paul, as the candidate of the independent gentlemen opposed to the aristocratic monopoly, but, profiting from the lesson of 1809, issued a handbill disclaiming any connexion with or approval of the Burdettites and on the hustings declared himself a ‘genuine Whig’, prepared to support moderate reform. The 11th Duke of Norfolk was the only peer with property in the county to support Guise. There was a general impression that if Dutton was elected he would side with ministers; but in January 1811 Dursley told the Prince of Wales that although Sherborne’s failure to oppose the Regency restrictions in the Lords almost made him regret that he was pledged to support his son, he had Dutton’s own authority to assure the Prince of his attachment: ‘the most genuine of our Whigs’, he added, ‘are fully convinced of this’.8

There was some doubt as to the propriety of issuing the writ while Dursley’s claim to the peerage, which was referred to a Lords committee of privileges, remained unsettled. It was moved for, 10 Jan. 1811, by Henry Thomas Howard, Whig Member for Gloucester and Norfolk’s cousin, opposed by ministers, but carried by 30 votes to 24. John Hatsell, former clerk of the House, thought it ‘a strange proceeding’ which ‘could not have happened in a full House with due notice of the motion’. Dutton’s supporters accused their opponents of intimidation and of manufacturing ‘penny contract’ votes by a fraud on the land tax assessment process.9

The election was hard fought, but Guise was always ahead and Dutton gave up on the tenth day. About one third of Guise’s votes came from the area around Gloucester, where his property lay, extending north and west to the Severn and south into the clothing country of Stroud. Dutton was most heavily supported in the Stow area, his family’s territory, in the Forest of Dean, where the Berkeley interest was dominant, and in the district around Beaufort’s seat in the south east.

When Dursley’s claim to the peerage was disallowed in July 1811, some doubt surrounded the validity of the by-election. Perceval and the Speaker agreed that if it were challenged it must be declared void, although they were uncertain of what would then become of Dursley’s right to resume his seat, as he had never delivered a valid qualification.10 Dursley, who now styled himself Colonel Berkeley, did not force the issue and there was no opposition to Somerset and Guise in 1812 or 1818. Oldfield commented in 1816 that the ‘independent’ party seemed satisfied with their ‘partial triumph’ over the ‘aristocratical coalition’.11

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Glos. RO, Bragge Bathurst mss D421 X17/42; Glos. Studies ed. Finberg, 200-1.
  • 2. Fortescue mss.
  • 3. Bristol Jnl. 19 Oct., 2 Nov. 1805.
  • 4. Glocester Jnl. 27 Oct., 3, 10 Nov.; Bristol Jnl. 1 Nov.; Arundel Castle mss. Berkeley to Norfolk, 31 Oct.; Fortescue mss, Berkeley to Grenville, 30 Oct., 7 Nov., Grenville to Berkeley, 1 Nov. 1806; Bragge Bathurst mss X17/26, 42.
  • 5. Glos. RO, Paul mss D589, Guise to Paul, 26 Apr., 4 May, Paul to Guise, 30 Apr., 2, 3 May 1809.
  • 6. Fortescue mss, Berkeley to Grenville, 1 Mar. 1810; Perceval (Holland) mss E11, 13, 16, 17; SRO GD51/1/200/33-35.
  • 7. CJ, lxv. 435-6; Parl. Deb. xvii. 219*, 314; Geo. III Corresp. v. 4198.
  • 8. The Times, 30 Aug., 26 Sept.; Pol. Reg. 29 Sept. 1810; HMC Bathurst, 143; Add. 38323, f. 87; 45043, ff. 35, 37; Prince of Wales Corresp. vii. 2820.
  • 9. Parl. Deb. xviii. 807; Add. 34460, f. 444; Glos. RO, Sherborne mss D678 F 96 I.
  • 10. Colchester, ii. 340.
  • 11. Rep. Hist. iii. 475-6.